w00tstock can best be described as a variety show for nerds. The official tagline is “3 hours of geeks+music,” which is fair enough, but it doesn’t begin to cover what you actually get to see on stage.
It is the brainchild of Wil Wheaton, Adam Savage and the musical duo Paul & Storm. Wheaton is probably still best known as Wesley Crusher from Star Trek: The Next Generation, but has since become better known as a gamer and general geek about town. Adam Savage is a local guy, of course, and best known to fans for blowing shit up as the more verbose half of the Mythbusters team. Paul & Storm have been entertaining nerds since they were part of Da Vinci’s Notebook and continue the tradition of music that makes you laugh and groan simultaneously.
Not so very long ago, these lovely folks presumably got drunk and spent an evening horsing around and one of them said; “hey, I wonder if people would pay us to do this?” And as it turns out, the answer was “oh, hell yes!” (Note: This story is not true)
Well, in some circles “let’s put on a show!” is a punchline, but in nerd-dom that is how Worldcon bids, and apparently massively successful touring variety acts, are born. I was at show 1.0.1 in San Francisco at the Swedish American Hall in November of 2009 and had a fantastic time. Aside from the fact that everyone involved is very funny, the loose and cheerful vibe and audience participation created a wonderful energy.
So, when they announced the new list of cities for 2010 and San Francisco was on the list, I knew I’d be going back. This time, the show was at the Great American Music Hall, which seats at least a hundred more people than the previous venue and has table service. Beyond that, The Hall is a beautiful old building, and from the balcony we had a pretty nice view of the stage, although the speakers unfortunately blocked a decent chunk of the monitor. I had forgotten how many videos and visual aids the show uses.
The founding members were all there, of course. Paul & Storm opened, mostly playing songs I already knew, but that simply meant that this time I was able to sing along where appropriate. Wil Wheaton read from his books, “The Happiest Years of My Life,” a charming story of his first Rocky Horror Picture Show midnight screening. Adam Savage likewise had a coming of age story, in his case about “Dungeons and Dragons” and teen lust, but more importantly he came on stage with the Blade Runner blaster replica that he made strapped on. The audience went nuts.
Aside from the main team, every w00tstock has special guests. Some announced in advance and others surprises. Last year we had Molly Lewis, who plays a mean ukelele and does both original songs and some amazing covers, and Kid Beyond, a beatboxer you have to see to believe.
This time Molly was back, and it was great to see the amount of confidence she has gained onstage since last year. The rest of the lineup included Bonnie Burton, who did a Star Wars crafts presentation and told some very troubling glitter and googly eyes anecdotes. Mike Phirman, of Hard N Phirm, who did a couple of very fastpaced songs including one that had a delightful Dr. Demento vibe to it. The more sciencey guest was futurist Jamais Cascio who spoke about how the Singulariy isn’t the “End of the World,” and while it was interesting enough it seemed more tailored for a mainstream audience. On the other hand, Grant Imahara’s BeerBot was just about perfect in tone and execution. Beer plus robot, plus hot guy, what’s not to love?
Mixed in with all this were vids such as the “A Moment with Will” series, funny clips and music bits to feed the ADHD-enhanced audience, my absolute favorite of which was the truly inspired Generic Movie Trailer from Britanick.
The neatest thing about the evening, though, wasn’t even on the stage. It was seeing the participants who were not currently onstage mingle by the backstage door chatting, drinking and watching whoever was performing at the time. It was clear that they could just as easily have been off in the green room eating delicious hummus, but wanted to hang with their friends and be part what was going on.
All good things must come to an end, though, and as is traditional, the evening wrapped up with the crew back on stage for “The Captain’s Wife’s Lament,” which is a simple pirate ditty that requires audience participation and ends up being a 20+ minute long audience participation saga. I recognized a number of my fellow nerds in the audience, including John O’Halloran, who was kind enough to provide the photos for this writeup, and it was fun to see the tweets the following night as people got ready to head out to the Friday night show. Each night is unique, but I knew they’d be in for a good time.
SF/SF Issue #109, September 29, 2010